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TROY, Mich. -- Richard L. Cozart, the former director of Kmart's supplier diversity initiative, is suing the chain, alleging it sabotaged its own minority vendor program, discriminated against black suppliers, and then fired him for promoting diversity.
According to published reports, Cozart, who is black, filed a lawsuit Jan. 19 in Oakland County Circuit Court, claiming that Kmart Holding Corp. blocked his efforts to create a more diverse supplier base. He also claims Kmart unfairly terminated him last summer, despite receiving positive performance evaluations.
Cozart, 45, started his 23-year career with Kmart as a manager trainee. He claims the company initially supported his diversity initiatives, but hampered his efforts after Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002.
More than six former Kmart vendors have joined the suit, claiming Kmart required certification that wasn't required from other vendors, and created unfair obstacles.
Kmart denied the allegations and has asked Judge Denise Langford-Morris to dismiss the suit. The vendors named in the suit no longer do business with Kmart, spokesman Jon Gieselman told The Detroit News. Kmart said it continues to support minority businesses.
"Kmart has a long-standing and demonstrable commitment to minority suppliers and minority communities," the company said. "Nearly 20 years ago, Kmart instituted a supplier diversity program and continues to purchase from a wide range of minority-owned vendors."
The suit said Kmart has 8,965 vendors, of which 165 are black-owned.